Let’s make one thing clear from the outset: there’ll be no Mayan jokes here.
The world isn’t ending, but it is collapsing – a blisteringly chaotic process that has been thrown into very stark relief indeed this year. As the actors at the end of the world assumed their first positions we might have expected the soundtrack to take a turn for the doomy – and yet, if anything, 2012’s albums have been characterised by a lunge at the light; a self-conscious attempt to ward off disaster with a smile, or at least to precede the apocalypse with a decent party.
Happily enough, the pre-obliteration festivity vibe has yielded some delightful records. Some of the finest albums of the year can be considered the fruit of the continuing disintegration of genre boundaries, with artists increasingly adept at mining sounds for nuggets to be redeployed. The culture is fragmenting, yes, but if there is a big tent into which these records all fit, it might broadly be labelled ‘pop’ – a heading that, for all its contradictions, seems particularly vital in 2012.
Here, then, you can find the fifty albums that defined Best Fit’s year. Be quick though – if the Mayans are right, you’ve only got four days to listen.
There are some records you find yourself salivating over for months before their release date, and then there are some you stumble upon quite by chance. The fifth full length album from Canadian veterans Wintersleep definitely falls into the latter category, but whilst I’m not sure what draw me to Hello Hum in the first place, I’m damn sure of what made me stick around: eleven mournful, sincere, sentimental, indie tracks of the folk tinged variety that became more addictive than cigarettes for a while. Once in its arms, this is the kind of record you push to breaking point.
- Lauren Down
A solid first effort from Brighton based Cave Painting. Bubbling beneath the anthemic hooks and rousing melodies scattered throughout Votive Life lies a rich canvas of sound with minute elements – which take a second play through or more to pick up on. Mixing fragments of more easily identifiable genres to form a woozy and unique potion, straying from the template of the done-to-death guitar-rock revival and alleviating some of the electronica pains; there’s sincere emotion muddled in with the labyrinthine noises, making for a thoroughly enjoyable listen. Immerse yourself.
- Laurence Day
Bill Fay made a majestic and eagerly awaited return in 2012 with Life In People, a collection of new songs and cover versions pitched Fay’s voice, enriched by time, as one of the most overlooked voices in British music.
- Ray Honeybourne
Chromatics may initially have appeared to be testing their fans’ enthusiasm upon the release of Kill for Love, delivering not just a long album but one that also featured several extremely long individual tracks. The opener, a cover of Neil Young’s ‘Into the Black’, threw another curveball for those simply expecting a collection of slick Italio-disco, the disjunct only heightened by the fact that – well – it worked. Brilliantly. This was, it turned out, a moreish, addictive treat of an album, equal parts slinky club delights and underlying melancholy. The title track was a euphoric, lysergic delight, while ‘These Streets Will Never Look The Same’ was a more downbeat, complex, yet no less pleasurable treat. Throughout, Ruth Radelet’s darkness-tinged vocals gave the collection its distinctive character, from yearning comedown to stylish ennui . Music to dance to then, certainly, but also to recover to on the day after the big night before, all regret and shadowy apprehension for what might have been said and done. This album is more than worth the hour and half of your time that it demands.
- Jude Clarke
During the four year interval between the recordings of WHY?’s last two LPs and this new album, the aptly-named Mumps,etc, band member and chief confessionalist Yoni Wolf was struck down with several bouts of sicknesses, including, as you might gather from the album’s very title, the mumps. The resulting record is an all-encompassing ode, lament and requiem to everything from life, love, sex, death and those little things that crop up in between. Littered everywhere within the album’s entirety are songs of ageing and illness, from the aforementioned opener to ‘Kevin’s Cancer’ and ‘Strawberries’, the latter a touching mourning for Yoni’s own grandmother.
At the centre of it all, though, is Yoni’s own mortality, as he pushes past thirty and holds a magnifying glass up to his own lfe. The record isn’t the first of the group’s back-catalogue to address ailing health, in just the name alone of 2008’s Alopecia comes the lamenting of his receding locks. But this recent offering is the first where it all takes centre-stage. That isn’t to say it’s a record lacking in humour, a focal point once again is Yoni’s signature sardonic verse, making light on the grave and providing one of the wittiest records of the year once again.
- Luke Morgan Britton
Danish creator Brian Batz and his team of bunny masked maestros returned with a second album back in April of this year – a mesmerising collection of skeletal tales, hypnotic melodies and spine-tingling songs which proved to be an altogether more light and accomplished affair than the sounds found on the debut. A delicately enchanting effort, We Were Drifting On A Sad Song revels in binding the unmistakable childlike vocals of Batz with a richly woven backdrop that pristingly fuses the organic with the electronic. A compelling record, Batz’s second full length has made sure that Sleep Party People’s music will stick in our minds forever.
- Francine Gorman
After a series of well-received EPs, Chad Valley’s first album proper seems less like a debut that you’d normally expect. Just taking a single glance at the tracklisting will reveal a whole host of collaborators amongst the record’s credits. There’s so many cameos on the album that the tracklist begins to appear like a mathematical worksheet, with x signs galore through the linear sleeve.
Where it works best are the tracks where the collaborators connect the dots between Hugo Manuel’s own harmonies and their own, as is on lead single ‘Fall 4 U’, the unashamedly Spice Girls-aping ‘My Girl’ (featuring Fixers’ Jack Goldstein) and the El Perro Del Mar-featuring ‘Evening Surrender’. The strength of the record, however, rests with Chad Valley’s own vocals and his ability to craft masterful pieces of electro-pop goodness.
- Luke Morgan Britton
Swing Lo Magellan’s namesake, the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan was allegedly the first man to sail round the entire world (well, he popped his clogs a little short of the finish line, but we’ll let him off). David Longstreth is at the helm here, propelled forward by fidgeting, unstable melodies that somehow sound entirely natural. Longstreth is such a dedicated songsmith that you just have to step back in sheer awe and hear every single harmony transform into colour. Dirty Projectors have created an album that is every bit as original as its predecessors, one that is also extremely accessible.
- El Hunt
Such was the focus upon the aesthetics of Natasha Khan’s third album that the music itself was forced into a supporting role: a terrible fate for a collection so consistently impressive. Sidestepping slightly from the fantasy environs and Grimm fairy tales of her earlier work in favour of a more personal lean, The Haunted Man still presents a glimpse into another place, where the moon hangs low and shadows dance upon snowy fields. These are pop songs that strive to move, whether through ‘Laura’’s sparing balladry or the twitching off-beat of ‘Oh Yeah’, from an album that reaffirms Bat For Lashes’ central role a step apart.
- Christian Cottingham
“Booze, broads and barber-shop chords,” is the mantra that led London based Django Django to create their much touted first album. A melting pot of electronic tones, tropical rhythms, hypnotic harmonies and soaring sequences, Django Django’s self titled debut is a true force to be reckoned with, garnering a well deserved Mercury nod and pretty much universal critical acclaim. Each of the twelve tracks on the record resonates with excitement and vitality, all having been carefully strung together in order to capture every ounce of the light and vibrancy that this band represent.
- Francine Gorman
Inspired by Taken By Trees’ namesake Victoria Bergsman’s time spent in Hawaii, Other Worlds was a natural step towards a luxurious pop sound for the ex-Concretes singer that saw her ditch the Pakistani influences that ran through the veins of previous album East Of Eden in favour of dream-like musings and dub-heavy experiments. Other Worlds is a complete work. A journey to paradise that begs to be listened to from start to finish in order to fully appreciate its density and intricacy. From Pakistan to Hawaii, where Bergsman will take her cues from next is anyone’s guess – but we can’t wait to find out.
- Rich Thane
From its subtly blissed-out opener ‘Tobago’ to the strange and disorientating ‘Snake Lane West’ and breathy ‘Alalon’, this was a debut drenched in atmosphere. With a scope that suggested that the band’s record collection was well stocked with progressive rock, kraut and more than one Cocteau Twins album, Egyptian Hip Hop’s ambition and willingness to experiment (with sound, mood, pace, rhythm) would be impressive in any band, never mind one whose members are barely out of their teens. Good Don’t Sleep is a marker laid down: watch where they’ll take us next.
- Jude Clarke
Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s fourth studio album is the sound of a band unshackled. Lift Yr Skinny Fists made them “An Important Band”; on its follow-up, Yanqui UXO, they collapsed under that pressure. Allelujah isn’t a complete reinvention, but their eight-year hiatus has at least allowed them to rediscover what it is to play only for themselves. Unlike previous records, Godspeed are not straining to soundtrack the world around them, Allelujah is defiantly not the sound of 2012. Its singularity is its success.
- Adam Nelson
Provocatively cool and indelibly gifted, Matthew Dear returned to our collective consciousness in Autumn with his fourth full length album, Beams. As soon as the first mesmerising tones of lead single ‘Her Fantasy’ resonated around the room, we were irrevocably hooked. Intensely textured sonic narratives guide the listener through a perfectly presented and precisely engineered tracks on this completely captivating record. Capturing Dear at his most confident, engaging and playful, this album could almost be mistaken as being a bit ‘cocky’ if it wasn’t so damn loveable and catchy.
- Francine Gorman
To the West is the Party Wizard of Baltimore. A Trippy Green Skull flickers nearby. Dan Deacon wants to tell you about America. It’s a tale of multitudes just barely contained: a buzzing howl that crashes into percussion like an electrified sword; war drums, victory cries; robot campfire songs. Deacon has traded in some silliness over the last nine years – no titles like ‘Breast Cake/Penis Sleeve’ here! – but reaps just plain silly amounts of beauty in return. The Wizard conjures a gemstone United States – myriad glittering facets and a dark, unseeable core. You have become Transfixed. Game Over.
- Meryl Trussler
Richard Hawley’s Mercury Prize nominated ninth album saw the one time Pulp guitarist and long time legend return to immaculate form with more than just a bit of gusto. Standing At The Sky’s Edge hits its high point on the very first note, its psychedelic leanings and pastoral sensibilities combining in amongst layers of distortion and reverb in an instant, remaining twisted together throughout. Waxing philosophical about wide-eyed dreams each song is grounded in a tumultuous darkness, the colourful instrumentation disguising a world of crime-ridden estates and murderous men weaved by Hawley’s distinct, low crooning drawl. More than just Hawley at his newly invigorated rock ‘n’ roll best, Standing At The Sky’s Edge brings all the Yorkshire man’s eccentricities together in one, magnificent 50 minute sprawl.
- Lauren Down
By titling their second album Lonerism, Tame Impala are perhaps suggesting that listeners isolate themselves a bit while listening, or simply acknowledging that society in this digital age is still ultimately socially disengaged, tapping into that sense of solitude amidst the masses. That subtle designation hints at where the real beauty of this record lies, for while some of these anthemic numbers clearly make for great party music, the dazzling texture and tone of these tracks are best appreciated under a good set of headphones, the soaring sonic experiments truly flourishing and taking flight when all other distractions have been removed. Lonerism is a grandiose, adventurous album, pulsing with the self-assured inventiveness of a band who clearly are onto something fresh and engaging. Intoxicating in their own right, the tracks also maintain a loose, seductive playfulness. At each turn there are surprises that await the listener, while nothing quite prepares you for the brilliance of ‘Elephant’: so good that the band just had to give it a towering name. Creating their own link between the psychedelic pop rock sound of the late ’60s and the avant-garde electronic artifice of today, the band have crafted something that is at once familiar and relentlessly modern. But rather than coming off as yet another pale knockoff of the four famous lads from Liverpool, Tame Impala use their influences as a jumping off point to take their music in a far more distinct and unexpected direction. And that is perhaps the enduring appeal of Lonerism, that each time you put the record on, it can take you somewhere different and leave you struggling to figure out how you got there.
- Erik Thompson
Not content with simply pushing forward and breaking boundaries in electronic music, Flying Lotus has done what you might imagine seems logical only to him; he’s hopped into a time machine. Steven Ellison bombs straight back to smoky, exciting, decadent ’60s America where Free Jazz runs riot, and then adapts that entire landscape for his own design of skittering beats and swelling backdrops. It’s like musical poetry. If Allen Ginsberg had somehow ended up being an electronic producer in 2012, and written Howl as an album instead, we imagine it might sound a little like this.
- El Hunt
“Always different, always the same” was a line that John Peel used to sum up The Fall, but he could just as well have been describing Liars – and I don’t think I’m being a fantasist by asserting that Mr Peel would have counted Liars as amongst the best of today’s alt-rock acts. That’s if they even are an alt-rock act anymore – WIXIW, certainly their best album since their masterpiece Drums Not Dead, sees them ditch most of their beloved guitars and analogue percussion in favour of cold, minimal electronics, but still present is their signature obsession with woozy textures and unsettling grooves. It attacks from a very different angle, but Liars remain so unique that the excellent WIXIW could only be the work of this one remarkable band.
- Thomas Hannan
Shields feels like more of a follow-up to Yellow House than it does to Veckatimest. Without the crutch of a big obvious hook single it mostly turns back towards the shifting, textural soundscapes that begin somewhere near freak-folk and proceed to shift moods, time signatures and harmonies across the range as if it were perfectly natural. Entirely able to work on their own terms rather than follow the fashion their success may have suggested, each listen brings something new out from the detailed, crossthreaded arrangements, an ambitious, warm sonic palette in which every small part finds room to breathe.
- Simon Tyers
Purity Ring’s Shrines is space music, both in that it creates space through atmospheric, architectural mastery, and in the way that it proceeds to populate said space with sounds that are as beautiful, disconcerting, and alien as the universe, a dissociative, hazy collection of breathy sighs and moans, a manipulation of gasps and exhalations set to stuttering, shimmering trap rhythms that is then traced delicately by Megan James’ vocals and cut deeply, irrevocably, by the Beautiful Violence of the lyrics she is so gently scaring the space with. “Cut open my sternum and pull/My little ribs around you”, she sings, and one is taken aback not so much by the graphicness of the imagery, but by the pulchritude of its delivery, haunting and thin in a vast, Cimmerian cosmos.
- B D Zarley
Two years ago, Beach House released Teen Dream, and universally the music world thumped their fists down on the table and declared loudly and triumphantly “they’ve done it!” Hell, a certain company Ve Will not name even tried to snap up a slice for their car advert. Beach House had succeeded in making subtlety sound massive, sonically amazing. Once you’d eased yourself gently out of the wash of emotion, though, a big question mark hung overhead. How on earth could they top it? It’s fitting really that their next record was titled Bloom, because it takes everything that made Teen Dream painstakingly beautiful, and refines it into a mega-fuse packed with coloured fireworks and rhythmic explosions ready to unfurl. There are a few technicalities that are better; the songs feel slightly tighter, the lyrics are more straightforward – but come on, who cares a jot about all that? Like an inkblot spreading across paper, every track on Bloom starts from humble melodic beginnings before transforming into something you can feel and almost touch. Victoria Legrand’s vocals are so unhurried, hung with velvet and drenched with feeling, that she manages somehow to give a thousand faces to a simple line like “You say it isn’t real.” Indeed, Bloom is so perfect that sometimes it is hard to believe it’s real at all.
- El Hunt
Calling upon a number of genres in their collaboration, fan favourite ‘Teary Eyes and Bloody Lips’ appears as a rock and roll ode to a turbulent relationship, while the song ‘Yesterday’s Fire’ could well be the soundtrack to Donnie Darko being sent to detention in John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club. A melting pot of the influences, skills and talents that Krug and Siinai have accumulated over the years, there’s no doubt that this record is going to stand up as one of 2012’s most original pieces of work.…Heartbreaking Bravery is a dark and yearning, bittersweet concoction which allows waves of guitar to flood every corner, leaving Krug’s unmistakable vocal to lead the charge. Yet as impressive and seemingly natural as the collaboration between Krug and Siinai may be, there’s one defining element to this body of work, and that is the lyrical work of Mr Krug. Proving that he’s without doubt one of the most elegant songwriters that our generation has to offer, the wordplay and poetry seeping from this record is of paramount importance to this collection of songs – the fact that they’re accompanied by such intense and intelligent melodies just makes them all the more special.
- Francine Gorman
The first ever French signing to revered record label Domino, François Marry and his Atlas Mountains dropped E Volo Love in the UK back at the start of the year to widespread critical acclaim. And within seconds of listening to opening track ‘Les Plus Beaux’, it’s crystal clear why this collective has become one of the most highly reputed bands about town. Tropical rhythms, bewitching melodies and simplistic, poignant lyrics make E Volo Lovea charming and inviting proposition, one which grows and blossoms with every listen.From the tranquil, romance laden nuances of ‘Slow Love’ through to the electro leanings of ‘La Piscine’, E Volo Love is a mesmerising and delicately thoughtful album. And if we take François and the Atlas Mountains’ mind-blowingly engaging live show into consideration, we can confidently argue that E Volo Love, the record that introduced François and this exceptional group of musicians to a UK audience, has been indubitably one of the musical highlights of the year.
- Francine Gorman
Breakups. No, we’re not talking T-Swift-style tween spats, but emotional degradation, righteous anger, chaotic upheaval and low-as-fuck moments. That’s not to say listening to Give You The Ghost is an upsetting experience, more one of trance-like catharsis. The record, much like fellow Gayngs-experimenter Justin Vernon’s breakthrough debut, was written in the aftermath of the dissolution of both a relationship and a band. A big part of its success is its heavy use of Auto-Tune. While vocoder processing has seen its fair share of justified criticism in recent years, Leaneagh isn’t using it to hide vocal or melodic deficiencies, but as a means to bury her voice in the tracks and play off against the synthezisers. This isn’t always the case however. On the duelling drum-led ‘Violent Games’ she twists and loops her delivery over Olsen’s abrasive synths to electrifying effect, culminating in a blur of tightly-controlled audio chaos. Influences abound on the album, at times channelling the Bristol trip-hop scene of the 1990s, alongside the dreamy pop of the Cocteau Twins and the eerily detached electronica of the Eurythmics. So, do Poliça deserve their shout-outs from the two Js (V and Z)? Undoubtedly. Their thrilling, mechanical urgency overlaid with floating, contorted vocals is the perfect soundtrack to the futuristic sequel of Drive that never was; maybe the film’s director Nicolas Winding Refn can sign them up to record the OST for the new Barbarella series he’s attached to remake?
- Jason Williamson
I can’t quite believe Something came out in 2012. And no, that is not a dig at its overt ’80s electro pop-referencing landscape, but more that as one of the year’s earliest releases so much has come in between its release and now. Yet, giving it a spin now for the first time in quite a while it still sounds as fresh and exciting as it did when it hit my ears back in January. Whilst Caroline Polachek and Patrick Wimberly’s revivalism didn’t push the style much further than its heyday what they did do was produce a slick, assertive, modern record full of life-affirming, dance-like-no-one-is-watching pop songs. And ultimately, an album that produced the winding genius of ‘Amanaemonesia’, the down-tempo flutters of ‘Sidewalk Safari’ and the momentous power house pop of ‘Met Before’ could not be left out of any end of year list.
- Lauren Down
‘Does it sound like Interpol?’ seems to be the most commonly asked question whenever this album crops up in conversation. The answer to that? Of course it sounds a bit like Interpol. You can’t take one of music’s most distinctive voices and put it on a new album without it bearing any resemblance to previous work. Fortunately for us listeners, the voice in question is among the most captivating found in the trade, and the vocalist in question, Paul Banks, draws on a diverse range of musical and artistic influences to provide a listening experience that’s wholly different to that of an Interpol record.Paul Banks’ eponymous album is the first full length release under his own name. Having shed the moniker Julian Plenti – feeling that he’d paid enough homage to his former music making self with his previous solo release, Julian Plenti Is… Skyscraper- the first rumblings that we heard from the New Yorker came in the form of an autumnal ode to the sun – a blissful, journeying and expansive track by the name of ‘Summertime Is Coming’. Harnessing Banks’ trademark, distinctive vocal, his poetic wordplay and his penchant for a heart melting drop, ‘Summertime is Coming’ provided a telling insight into what to expect from the album, and we certainly weren’t disappointed.Paul Banks is a combination of emotional highs, lows and fond recollections. ‘Young Again’, a tender ode to the passing of youthful fantasy makes good work of its task to transport the listener to the halcyon days of adolescence, while ‘Arise Awake’ showcases Banks’ ability to blend different times, sentiments and styles together in an original and completely engaging way. Taking the freedom that comes when working as a solo artist and truly allowing himself to run with it, Banks has discovered all of the key ingredients to create a fitting and honest representation of Paul Banks as a solo musician, and an artist in his own right.
- Francine Gorman
‘Ye Ye’ was indisputably the club track of 2011. With its dusty percussion, Hal-like bleeps, and oh god that fucking bassline, it ensured that Dan Snaith’s debut LP as Daphni would be one of this year’s most highly anticipated.
If you were expecting a dozen ‘Ye Ye’s, you were likely to have been disappointed. Instead, JIAOLONG is more like a whistle-stop perambulation around Snaith’s obviously cavernous record collection. JIALONG is cathedral-like. It’s built on a foundation of house, but the pillars holding the structure up are hewn by turns from afrobeat, acid, echoes of library music, and retro-futurist spaceship noises. Its palette is gloriously technicolour and its scope is impressive – perhaps most importantly it’s straight-up brilliant fun. A record that surely heralds a productive new phase in Snaith’s career.
- Josh Hall
The delicious prospect of a promised collaboration between these two cerebral musical giants came to fruition, and more than paid off, this year. The music that resulted from their via-email correspondence was smart-pop alchemy, the surprise of the album’s brass band bedding lending a rhythmic slink to tracks like ‘Weekend in the Dust’ and ‘Dinner for Two’. The project also had stylish grooves in spades, exemplified by the jerk-funk of ‘Ice Age’ and the stop-start ‘Lazarus’. Vocally Byrne and Annie Clarke cohered beautifully, enjoyably offsetting each other’s stylistic tics and audibly having a great time while doing so. Clarke’s sultry singing met Byrne’s twitchy, discursive style in the middle, each softening and enhancing the other in the process. Along the way the pair also provided alluring imagery (from the mysterious and unspecified “statue of the man who won the war” to the cyclical “A song is a road/A road is a face”) whilst steering as wide a path away from the obvious or clichéd as you would expect from them both. Feeling like an integral “piece”, although lacking any discernible overriding “theme”, Love This Giant proved to be satisfyingly greater than the sum of its parts, and – in its two protagonists – brought us one of 2012’s sharpest pairings.
- Jude Clarke
Errors have never been a band for standing still, but this third record marks their most impressive evolution to date. Ever since the widespread acclaim that greeted their How Clean Is Your Acid House EP way back in 2006 they’ve gradually fleshed out and subtly humanised their brand of instrumental dance-rock. Pre-release much was made of their increased vocal input on this album but they’ve come good on their promise to treat vocals just like any other instrument, and the gossamer tones add incredible warmth and fragility to their sound. The overall result is a record of considerable elegance; this is no longer some kind of post-rock-meets-dance niche too technical to dance to but too melodic to stroke your chin to. It’s more of an expansive pop mirage which uses ambiance and subtlety as powerful tools to create songs of scope and poise without ever sacrificing memorability. Perhaps unusually for one with an electronic heart, it’s a record so deeply ingrained with melodic texture and groove that it will defiantly burrow itself into your subconscious. The phantasmic lulls of ‘Cloud Chamber’ will creep into your dreams while the crystal grooves of ‘Pleasure Palaces’ worm their way into your stride and you find yourself humming ‘Barton Spring’ at your desk; it’s unavoidable. This is a consummate triumph of an album, exquisitely pieced together and breathlessly produced, combining the various strands of their previous work to create something which sounds really quite unique in its execution.
- Chris Tapley
Voyageur was Kathleen Edwards’ first foray into collaborative music-making – working with tour mate and boyfriend Justin Vernon, Norah Jones and Phil Cook of Megafaun. The results nevertheless still display that intimate warmth and honesty that have always made her music so resonant. Her tales of relationships gone right and wrong are full of humour, cynicism and a world-worn sorrow, yet her beautiful voice manages always to endow her words with a warmth and emotional edge that can truly move you. This is someone that has been there, done that and knows about life and love: from the slow decline of romance depicted in ‘House Full of Empty Rooms’ to the creepy protagonist of ‘Chameleon Comedian’ and the brilliant simplicity of ‘A Soft Place to Land’’s couplet “Calling it quits/You think this is easy?” Graced with gentle guitars, mandolins and swathes of elegiac piano, the music complements and showcases the emotional strengths of the lyrical and vocal content to near-perfect effect. On the album’s lovely closing track ‘For the Record’ Edwards tells us “I only wanted to sing songs”. Long may she continue to do so, if the songs are to be as graceful and touching as this album’s collection.
- Jude Clarke
TOY establish their primary aural weaponry within the first seconds of ‘Colour’s Running Out’, their self-titled debut album’s opening track: washes of guitar that both sear and soar, rhythms that would make the likes of Neu! proud and vocals that emanate a detached, anonymous cool (when they rise above a disembodied whisper, that is). In fact, if you’re well versed in the output of Cluster, Loop and the Spacemen 3, or you’re familiar with recent releases from TOY’s frequent tour-mates, The Horrors, not much on this album will strike you as particularly new. This is the kind of band that, if too dexterous to be considered streamlined revivalists, at least consistently tout their love of shoegaze blur, dark psychedelia and chugging motorik beats: one particularly autobahn-ready song actually bears the title ‘Motoring’. Yet TOY’s disinterest in petty things like innovation works to their advantage. Situated in comfortable sonic parameters, the band takes their time going where they please, stretching out and probing the depths of their sound. Throughout Toy, they let the songs coalesce effortlessly out of the reflective mire of iridescent keyboard drones and blinding distortion squalls. And the songs that do take shape in the midst of all this astral travelling? They’re nonchalantly majestic and routinely memorable, from the surprisingly warm expanse of ‘Make It Mine’ to the regal, slow motion space-pop of ‘The Reasons Why’. Yes, TOY may be exploring the icy waters underground, but there’s a pop heart that beats beneath all the chilly layers of atmosphere, and this distinguishes the band from their repetitious, angular and leather-clad brethren. Really, if there’s anything novel about TOY, it’s that despite their noisy pedigree and blasé appeal, they thankfully aren’t above writing genuine earworms; no amount of narcotic haze could quite distract from the chorus of ‘Lose My Way’ (not that TOY didn’t try).
- Michael Wojtas
First Gil Scott-Heron, now Bobby Womack: XL is making a habit of resuscitating the careers of US soul legends who’d seemingly vanished off the face of the earth. Not that Womack had been completely silent since his ’70s/early ’80s peak. After celebrated appearances with Gorillaz, The Bravest Man in the Universe cements the 68-year old’s return to active service. Co-written and produced by Damon Albarn and XL chief Richard Russell, The Bravest Man in the Universe is far removed from the luxuriously textured soul/funk throb and gospel-informed R’n’B grit of Womack’s most celebrated tunes. The elemental electronic beats and sparingly administrated accompaniments – a bit of whistling, a discreet backing chorus – keep the spotlight firmly on Womack’s vocals. A smart move: almost miraculously untouched by the years, his voice remains a remarkable instrument, equally at ease with half-whispered intimacy and powerhouse roar. As well as anchoring the album unmistakably in the here and now, rendering this a rare “comeback” album that’s doesn’t require an expert knowledge of the artist’s back catalogue to resonate fully, the production’s low-key starkness is a perfect match for the material. As befits a musician with a markedly troubled history, the highlights – the skeletal electro-soul of the title track, the bruised ‘Please Forgive My Heart’ – are immersed in regret and the weight of the passing years. There’s warmth and hard-won wisdom here, too, and the odd light-hearted moment (the almost irritatingly infectious ‘Love is Gonna Lift You Up’). In a year when pundits fretted over a perceived drop in the lifespan of artists, The Bravest Man in the Universe provided a welcome reminder of the value of longevity and experience.
- Janne Oinonen
As excellent as Sharon Van Etten’s 2010 album Epic was – and we wouldn’t have the artist as she is today without it – there’s still little that prepares you for how much of a step-up in class Tramp truly is. The key actually comes from a song not found on this album: Epic’s closing track, ‘Love More’ proved to be the catalyst for what came next for Van Etten, with Justin Vernon and The National’s Aaron Dessner taking a belated interest in this wonderful artist. Recorded in Dessner’s garage studio, Tramp is a confessional record detailing break-ups, but Van Etten’s curveball is that she’s happy to share the blame for relationship failings. On the stark acoustic shuffle of ‘Give Out’ she sings “You’re the reason why I’ll move to the city/Or why I’ll have to leave” and on the slow-build beauty of ‘Kevin’s’ – a song that Cat Power would kill to write these days – she croons “You dig your own grave”, a bleak admission by anyone’s standards. The powerful electric pair of ‘Warsaw’ and ‘Serpents’ shows how much confidence Van Etten has now compared to a couple of years ago as she storms through those tracks, but all pale in comparison to the sheer luminescence of album standout ‘Leonard’: a sumptuous waltz with ukulele and booming percussion, it unfolds slowly with Van Etten’s faltering “I am bad… at loving… at loving you” finally delivering the biggest emotional sucker-punch of 2012. The DNA of Brooklyn is all over this with guest spots from members of The Walkmen and Wye Oak, plus backing vocals from Zach Condon and Julianna Barwick but it’s a testament to Sharon Van Etten’s dazzling talent that she outshines them all, making Tramp an achievement of gigantic proportions.
- Andrew Hannah
The songwriting on Nocturne is just as sharp as on Wild Nothing’s excellent 2010 debut Gemini, but the new album sounds lusher, more refined, deeper. The “band” remains Jack Tatum, who once again plays everything but the drums, and once again Tatum’s shy, ethereal vocals, pretty synths and alternately chiming and reverb-drenched guitars are buoyed by a strong, nearly danceable rhythmic foundation. The music has a mystery to it that on repeat listens only sucks you in and grows. Nocturne is a melancholy album but it manages to be evocative of emotion without ever being on the nose. On ‘Paradise’, Nocturne’s centerpiece, Tatum sings “Love is paradise.” It’s an earnest expression but his delivery makes the implied, unspoken opposite come through almost as loudly. If “love is paradise”, it’s a truth that can only be discovered through heartbreak. And that truth is at the heart of what makes Nocturne great.
- Tyler Boehm
While How To Dress Well’s exquisite album, Total Loss, is steeped in both melancholy and regret, the evocative songs are imbued with a buoyancy and a modern pulse which is due to the subtle artistry of Tom Krell. These sombre but soaring tracks contain remembrances of people who Krell has lost along the way (literally and figuratively), and he honours them in a thoroughly modern way by capturing some of their eternal spirit in the songs themselves. Rather than let these losses cripple or crush him (which they almost did, as he struggled through a deep depression prior to writing and recording the album), he eventually poured himself into his music to lead him out of the darkness and back towards the light. These spare but soulful numbers all carry a heady emotional weight that tends to lighten as the songs draw gracefully to a close. It’s as if the indelible memories and moments captured by these doleful melodies and Krell’s deeply personal lyrics have served their purpose by healing his old wounds, and can now drift off unfettered into the ether in order, hopefully, to help someone else. And while an album as emotionally raw as Total Loss could easily get bogged down in shameless sentimentality, these highly inventive numbers maintain an elegant poignancy and dignified charm that is a testament both to Krell’s poised artistic vision and to the people who have inspired him along the way.
- Erik Thompson
The press copies of Halls’ debut long-player emerged in the summer, when the days were long and peals of laughter drifted casually on the wind. It didn’t work. But by the time of its October release Ark made perfect sense, crawling from the shadows and dragging us willingly back beneath them. Lonely and sepulchral, it meshes Burial’s street-lit melancholy with a restless kineticism, both grandiose and intimate, stone and candle. Not one for the dinner party, perhaps, but for those frostbitten winter insomniacs there’s little more enticing.
- Christian Cottingham
Sweden’s First Aid Kit lost none of the effortless charm of their debut by heading to Omaha, Nebraska to record their glorious follow-up, The Lion’s Roar. In fact, the Midwestern locale only encouraged Johanna and Klara Söderberg to further indulge their underlying Americana influences, and the talented sisters used the inspiration in the air (along with Mike Mogis’ steady, understated production) to craft one of the most striking and sincere albums of the year.
These acoustic-driven songs come across as plaintive lullabies for a set with no real desire for sleep, as the rousing lyrics serve as penetrating wake-up calls to characters who are finally ready for either a change in heart or to fall in love once and for all. The dulcet vocals of the Söderbergs guide these numbers to truly heavenly territory, but the insightful stories they sing so mellifluously lack the happy endings that plague much of pop music, offering instead no easy answers to life’s more complicated questions.
While these polished, soaring songs are clearly rooted in the dignified style of American folk and country music, the tracks are all imbued with Johanna and Klara’s self-assured confidence, which gives the album a mordant edge that deftly separates the songs from their classic lineage. The Söderberg sisters have a knack for writing simple but deeply affecting songs, giving their arrangements an effervescent lightness and bounce which belies the often weighty subject matter of the songs themselves, creating a tense, tasteful artistic balance which ultimately makes The Lion’s Roar so intoxicating and original.
- Erik Thompson
Scott Walker doesn’t recommend listening to Bish Bosch all in one sitting. He doesn’t even intend listening to it himself ever again. But you’re made of stronger stuff, right? If so, treats rarely come as curious or rewarding as this most recent record from the ’60s heartthrob turned experimental composer (if you want a modern comparison, imagine Justin Beiber joining Wolf Eyes). Just as likely to have you giggling in disbelief at fart noises and use of the word “gonads” as it is to prompt spontaneous tears of blood, the unusually playful Bish Bosch doesn’t so much walk a line between absurdity and horror as it does draw one pointing out how intimately the two are related. Rather than displaying emotional range as such, Walker’s voice is one that seems uniquely capable of imparting every sentiment on the spectrum simultaneously – from repulsion to despair through hilarity and lunacy and back again – aided by music that does its best to defy categorisation. As ferocious as the heaviest metal and yet as planned, delicate and unnerving as anything John Cage ever noted down (or didn’t note down), it’s the perfect ending to the trilogy started with Tilt and The Drift, taking in as it does all their beauty and aggression but adding a darkly comic edge all of its own. To some, he was the embodiment of a popular movement that peaked around five decades ago. But with the remarkable music he’s made as he approaches his 70th birthday, Scott Walker has become just as important to an entirely new, entirely different kind of listener.
- Thomas Hannan
Appearing during the darkest depths of winter earlier this year, Barcelonian John Talabot’s long awaited debut album wasn’t quite the light laden collection that one might’ve expected, given the tone emanating from his 2010 breakthrough track ‘Sunshine’. What did arrive however, far exceeded even the most optimistic fan’s expectations. 52 minutes of exceptionally crafted, soulful deep house made its way through our speakers – an instantly engaging creation which, from its very opening notes, established itself as a serious contender for the title of album of the year. Demonstrating how simplicity, tone and atmosphere are as vital to his craft as bone rattling rhythms and heart stopping drops, Talabot approached his first full length as a body of work to be considered as a whole, and a collection which would make for a captivating and moving live experience. Subtle, hypnotic and thoroughly enthralling from start to Fin (see what I did there?), we have a pretty strong feeling that John Talabot’s creation will stand up as not just one of the best albums of 2012, but as one of the most influential of its genre for years to come.
- Francine Gorman
So, it turns out that the chap who quietly drummed for Fleet Foxes – and made morbid country music as J. Tillman – is actually a showman full of charm, humour and swagger. Confessing that he was on auto-pilot, Josh Tillman packed in the band gig, headed out on the road with some hallucinogens, ending up in a shack in Laurel Canyon attempting to write a novel. That never quite worked out but the experiences came together on Fear Fun, his first record under the name Father John Misty.
A personal – yet dripping in irony – record that’s full of west coast pop, folk and country music, Fear Fun is kind of a cross between Neil Young and Harry Nilsson, writing songs which touch on sex, death, drugs, Hollywood and all points in between. It’s never anything less than brilliant at all times, from the disco-tinged ‘Nancy, From Now On’, the raucous country stomp of ‘I’m Writing a Novel’ which threatens to fly apart at any moment while squeezing in references to talking dogs, Canadian shamans, Young, Heidegger and Sartre, or the truly touching ballad ‘Everyman Needs a Companion’ where Tillman explains how he ended up here: “Joseph Campbell, and the Rolling Stones/Couldn’t give me a myth/So I had to write my own/Like I’m hung up on religion/Though I know it’s a waste/I never liked the name Joshua/I got tired of being J”. Tillman sings “Let’s just call this what it is” on his scathing and honest look at music-making ‘Now I’m Learning to Love the War’, and we should recognise Fear Fun for what it is: the best record to come out of Laurel Canyon for a long, long time.
- Andrew Hannah
Some artists revel in the little details, digging into life’s minutiae in search of unexpected meaning. Others turn their eyes away from the street and cast them towards the sky, sparring with grand forces on their abstract home turf. El Perro Del Mar, a.k.a. Gothenburg-born Sarah Assbring, has made her home in the latter camp.
Backed by gauzy compositions and softly lilting vocals, she eats everlasting joy for breakfast, then turns around and thumbs her nose at darkness and desolation before tea time. The clashing forces of hope and despair figure strongly in her music, love and sensual joy ranged against the bleak ranks of despondency and desperation.
Although there are times where Assbring’s melancholy lyrical swing matched with her restrained songwriting make Pale Fire seem difficult compared to the luminosity of previous material, dedicated listeners will in fact be rewarded – as with any El Perro Del Mar album – with layer upon layer through which to delve. And as downhearted as the album can be, it’s still possible to see through the gloom to the hope on the other side, even if it takes an act of faith to spot it.
- Chris Lo
This debut finds Echo Lake throwing a rather extraordinary sonic party; Beach House, the Cocteau Twins and My Bloody Valentine wander in and out and we’re sat propped up against walls in silence with totally blissed grins on our faces. Guitarist Thom Hill and lead singer Linda Jarvis plus band conjure up a graceful storm, and it’s as if nothing and everything happens all at once. And you’ll never want to leave, because once you’ve heard these ten tracks the outside world will seem like a painfully noisy, pointless irritation compared to the ethereal kicks you could be having with this London-based bunch.
Every so often a debut comes along so full of elegiac beauty that you can’t fail to fall for everything about it. Wild Peace is this year’s addition to the list. Prepare to be enthralled.
- Camilla Pia
Japandroids’ raucous second album, Celebration Rock, opens and closes with the sound of fireworks off in the distance, and it only gets more explosive in between. The Vancouver duo of Brian King and David Prowse capture both the recklessness and revelry of youth in this highly combustible batch of songs, spinning high-octane tales of living each crazy night as if it were your last, while having no regrets come morning other than the fact that the evening had to end.
The album churns with an unrelenting urgency straight from the start, as King’s fierce but focused guitar work is matched perfectly by Prowse’s driving, uncomplicated rhythms, both of which lift their unified lyrics heavenward as one unholy howl. The breathless, blistering album is over in just a scant 35 minutes, leaving the listener with a need to either give it another spin, or go and find a party somewhere.
Whether on the drunken blast of ‘The Nights Of Wine And Roses’ or the ‘American Girl’-echoing ‘Evil’s Sway,’ these songs never come close to being outsider anthems, and are instead as inclusive as it gets in the somewhat isolated modern rock ‘n’ roll landscape. These are piercing numbers that we’re meant to sing loudly together, a riotous soundtrack to good times that only seem to get better when these tracks are played. And when the party is over and life gets a bit too real, ‘Adrenaline Nightshift’ is there as a confident reminder to anyone working an interminable dead-end job that there are grandiose moments awaiting all of us elsewhere, and that this crippling frustration is thankfully only as temporary as the time clock.
After an untamed, surprising take on the Gun Club’s ‘For The Love Of Ivy’ closes out the first half of the record with a shot, the band really catches fire on the second side, with ‘Younger Us’ and the emphatic triumph of ‘The House That Heaven Built’ boisterously delivering on the promise suggested by Japandroids’ scorching debut. Celebration Rock is the volatile sound of an assertive group who have seized the spotlight entirely on their own terms, giving their fans and themselves music we can all grow younger to, with indelible songs that are imbued with the endless possibility and euphoric spirit of all our Saturday nights to come.
- Erik Thompson
‘No Future/No Past’, the first track from Cloud Nothing’s Attack on Memory, begins slowly and introduces its elements separately. Piano, bass, drums, guitar, and, finally, Dylan Baldi’s off-kilter wail. It is an incongruous start to the record, which thereafter resembles not so much several instruments playing together as one singular force, driving relentlessly toward its own end. It’s possible that you’ll hear ‘Wasted Days’, for example, and claim that you like the guitar solo, or the bassline on ‘Stay Useless’, but it feels somehow futile to pick Attack on Memory apart in such a way. It’s not that the album is more than the sum of its parts, it’s that Attack appears to have no parts: it is a seamless, continuous whole.
Critics of the album have frequently mentioned Baldi’s lyrics as a weakness. Yes, they come from a place of adolescent yearning and teenage angst. Yes, they are repetitive and would come across as banal in most other contexts. But they are not lyrics to ponder or identify with. Baldi is as much a part of the clattering, caterwauling, restless energy as anything else on the album, and if his lyrics are adolescent, it is because the music plays to a fundamentally adolescent sentiment. Attack on Memory is not a proactive record, it is reactive to the world and mind of Dylan Baldi. “I thought I would be more than this” is not a deep or original insight into the human condition; it is nothing more than a manifestation through language of the same emotion being expressed by the chaos underneath it.
It is crucial, too, that there is no baggage or excess weight here. At 34 minutes and only eight tracks long, Attack never becomes a tiring experience as albums with such unerring drive often do. Instead, it is endlessly rewarding, precisely because its few songs become so familiar to the repeat listener. This, combined with the early-emo sensibility imposed on the record by “engineer for hire” Steve Albini (whom Baldi famously claimed played Scrabble on Facebook for the duration of the recording), makes the record a contradictory amalgam of inviting, hook-laden power pop, and smothering, claustrophobically candid emotion. Albums often end up on end-of-year lists by doing several things very well, being many things to many men. Attack on Memory is here because it does one thing supremely, and pursues that end without rest.
- Adam Nelson
If any album this year deserves to be remembered for its musical and lyrical merits, it’s this one. While last year’s Nostalgia, Ultra mixtape alerted us to Ocean’s talent and potential, Channel Orange takes its greatest strengths and spreads them, top to bottom, across a whole album.
As Frank Ocean’s style has progressed, he is increasingly striking a balance between the warmth of ‘70s soul and the complexity of ultra-modern, woozy R’n’B. Channel Orange is the best example yet. The splashy keyboards and nimble vocals of ‘Sweet Life’ channel the pin-sharp popcraft of Innervisions-era Stevie Wonder, and some righteous church organs inject a little Motor City fizz into ‘Crack Rock’. The classical references casually rest alongside the kind of dark synth strains and glassy atmospherics you might find on one of The Weeknd‘s record, or a track by Ocean’s fellow Odd Futurites The Internet. It blends into a hugely appealing sound that flexes naturally between hedonism and humanity, desperation and devotion.
- Chris Lo
Aptly titled Instinct, Niki and the Dove’s debut is a patchwork of pop elements that refuse to sit comfortably in one genre for any length of time. Given a short sound bite, you might be led to believe that Instinct perpetuates just another pop paradise. Conversely you might hear a mash-up of textures and vocal wails that sound more like a pop-protest of sorts. The truth is that Instinct is neither and both of these at the same time, and if your first response is to turn away, rest assured it is only the uncertainty of the unknown that drives the urge. The Swedish duo prove to be skilled at creating sounds inspired by an ’80s dance ethos and fusing them to create something akin to a post-apocalyptic-electro-tribal-pop-opera. Instinct is a trailblazer in many ways and it deserves your undivided attention.
- Slavko Bucifal
It’s rare that a new band arrives with a sound as distinctive and fully formed as DIIV’s. On their debut album, Oshin, they take inspiration from trusted sources such as the Cure and Nirvana, but look beyond the obvious pleasures of these touchstones (the yelping histrionics of the former, the quiet-loud dynamics of the former), and instead swathe Oshin in a bleary atmosphere that recalls ‘Come As You Are’ as much as it does Disintegration. Primary songwriter Zachary Cole Smith’s boyish vocals appear sparingly throughout the dense, echoing album, sometimes disappearing for entire songs, as if Smith himself is being intermittently swallowed up by all the watery reverb and the whirlpool intensity of DIIV’s circular, krautrock-indebted rhythms.
Yet the crystalline beauty of Smith’s endlessly buoyant, wildly melodic guitar leads provides a foil to the blackened swirl of Oshin’s sonic seascape, wrestling hooks out of the album’s churning darkness. Though the typically indecipherable lyrics that bubble to the surface are repetitious and enigmatic, the omnipresent guitar jangle proves effective at suggesting everything from serpentine menace (‘Druun, Pt. II’) to wellspring purity (‘Follow’). The words sung in ‘How Long Have You Known?’ are nearly incantatory in their simplicity, yet the rise and fall of the band’s fluidly expressive interplay manages to evoke not just oceanic imagery, but the actual sensation of night swimming in all its mystery and exhilaration.
And while, on a cursory listen, Oshin’s smudgy songs may bleed together, after revisiting the album a few times, a remarkable sense of coherence begins to emerge, anchored by the band’s intuitive instrumental reciprocity. “I know myself completely”, Smith’s disarmingly plain voice seems to intone through the blur, churn and chime of standout pop moment ‘Human’; a fitting proclamation from someone leading a young band that is already so in tune with its own collective strengths.
- Michael Wojtas
Jens Lekman’s self-proclaimed “breakup album” could almost break your heart.
Were it not, that is, for the sheer, unbowed joy that remains in the music, despite the sadness with which the songs are seamed. From the title track’s perky endorsement of a marriage of convenience (“I always liked the idea of it: a relationship that doesn’t lie about its intentions, and shit”), ornamented with a giggle from the recipient of Jens’ “proposal” that would charm the most cynical of listeners; ‘Erica America’’s wry admiration of Frank Sinatra, a crooner who “had his shit figured out, I presume” and brilliant evocation of the aftermath of a demolished casino (“the air smelled like popcorn and ladies’ perfume); and the wonderful ‘Become Someone Else’s’, comprising sly masturbation references and a lovely response to Tracey Thorn (who referenced her good friend Jens in her 2010 track ‘Oh, The Divorces!’).
We’re certainly not spared the melancholy or the heart-rending, though: witness the slow and elegant despondency of ‘I Want A Pair of Cowboy Boots’ and the ‘Plaisir d’Amour’ echoes and reluctant acceptance in ‘The End of the World is Bigger Than Love’. It’s just that Lekman’s overall message – the key phrase probably of the whole album comes on the wonderfully meandering ‘The World Moves On’ when he philosophically declares “You don’t get over a broken heart, you just learn to carry it gracefully” – is delivered with such realism, lack of ire and self-deprecating wit and warmth that, somehow, the album elevates the spirit rather than depresses the soul.
And this is an album that’s a keeper, for sure; one that bears repeated – enchanted – listens as gracefully as Jens himself has learned to carry, and sing about, that broken heart.
So, hard-heartedly, in a way that’s completely contrary to the spirit of this beautiful album, it seems that a debt of thanks is due to the person that broke our Jens’ heart. Thank you, Ma’am: you did us all a favour.
- Jude Clarke
Of the many wars currently being waged within the music industry, the most dangerous is arguably that of the long game versus the short game: artist is signed, record fails to deliver, artist is dropped. While it’s a cliche and doesn’t happen half as much as we probably think, the fact remains – there’s a need to deliver on expectations, drawing out the public’s interest into that first big release and capitalising on it.
We who operate on music websites as an offshoot of the (supposedly) liberal, free-thinking media are quick to point out and attack such examples of near-sightedness on the part of bigger labels, especially when it’s an artist who cut their teeth in the indie league and finds themselves upgraded to a major. Nevertheless, we remain guilty of placing similar utterly unrealistic demands on the artists we cover: we’re just too modern for our own good and it’s ugly.
You see, the online world has bastardised the measurement of time to ludicrous proportions. A week may be a long time in politics but in the world of music consumption, it sometimes feels like an eternity. We’re a bunch of ruthless, unforgiving wolves, ready to absorb any morsel of musical nourishment we can find from the web’s latest wunderkids who we spit out mere weeks later when the second track fails to match the first. It’s taken someone like Dayve Hawk three records and several years for his Memory Tapes project to produce the masterful work we always knows he was capable of (this year’s Grace/Confusion), but just how many blogs and music ‘fans’ were ready to rip the New Jersey-native limb from limb when the second record didn’t quite give some of us hoped for? We invested fully in chillwave, a scene the web had a more than its share of responsibility in creating and developing – then shut the door in it when something brighter came along. With that rejection came an uneasiness in placing the artists we’d once embraced.
This is the way of the web: we are addicts, hungry for a bigger and better fix with every subsequent release, be it track, album, remix, video. The concept of breathing space has become alien to us. We’ve taken the build-em-up, knock-em-down formula perfect by the mid-90s NME to the level of a fine art.
The impetus behind choosing fifty albums to represent a year in music – and ranking them with some sense of ascending value – is nothing new and yet within the ranks of this site, we’ve tried to bring a sense of purpose to these lists and an ethos that combines both the subjective and objective. Jessie Ware’s debut Devotion is our number one record because it represents the most confident opening gambit from a new artist we’ve heard in a very long time. It’s a record that reminds us of the cynicism inherent in what we do and that we need to recognise those who we believe, without question, will continue to develop, surprise and entertain in years to come. As the first act in a new career, Devotion is peerless this year and as product of pure enjoyment, it’s taken root in our hearts. It challenges our weariness and the hideous online cycle we’re a part of.
At the heart of the Mercury-nominated debut is a deceptively simple concept: the transformation of influences through both a reductive approach to production and a delivery that combines personality with fragility. And those influences reek of quality, tracing Ware back to a lineage of soulful British pop music from Lisa Stansfield to Sade, Annie Lennox to Alison Moyet. Transposing them onto a record that draws from urban sonic references, broken beats, the ambience of the city requires a deft hand – a credit largely due to the production talents of The Invisible’s Dave Okumu, singer-songwriter Kid Harpoon and genius house producer Julio Bashmore.
The resulting album has created 2012′s breakout star and is arguably an iconic window onto the modern age of pop music. Ware is symbolic of this semi-golden period in which we currently find ourselves. Despite the abundance of manufacture, numerous careers where context and momentum is largely artist-driven continue to thrive. I encountered Ware as director of her Best Fit Session and there was little doubt that the South Londoner’s drive and grace was anything but an integral part of her music.
One has to also wonder whether her former role as a backing singer to Jack Peñate and work with the likes of Man Like Me and SBTRKT allowed her the time to observe and form a tactical response to the industry at an early stage. It’s surely played a part in shaping her approach to celebrity, which – so far – is nothing but delightful and charming, reflected throughout both her songs and performance.
Devotion didn’t win the Mercury prize and that’s a good thing form our point of view. The pressure and expectation on Ware would have increased tenfold and that same cynicism that blights music commentary amped up to kryptonite proportions. As it is, 2012 is at an end and we can enjoy one of the finest and purest pop records of quite some time without any blemishes. From the opening title track through to ‘Wild Moments’, ‘Running’, ‘Sweet Talk’, ’110%’….it’s an embarrassment of pop riches full of poignance, eloquent breaks and a rich talent that just gets better on every listen.
- Paul Bridgewater